Seasoned traditional dancer Pastor Ngarima George is looking for opportunities to pass on his knowledge – and is thinking that setting up a dance school might be a good way to go.
Taught to dance by his father and uncles on Manihiki where he grew up, Pastor George says the traditional Manihiki dance style is different to the Rarotongan style, “and it’s important to preserve those differences”.
“I have had a number of people who would be interested in volunteering their time to teach, from the old schools we’ve had, and a number of students who are interested to learn,” he says. “We need to revive this for future generations.”
Pastor George says the difference in the Manihiki dance style is down to the rhythm or the beat of the koriro drum. “It’s faster than the Rarotongan beat and the dancing is more acrobatic – there’s a lot more movement such as kicking, jumping, waving the hands and feet.”
Ngarima came to Rarotonga for his education, but continued to be involved in dancing. “I was one of the original members of the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre dance company, or CINAT. We formed in 1969 – it was a dream of our first prime minster Sir Albert Henry, for the establishment of the ministry of culture.”
He says a professional belly dancing couple came to audition members for the company and help to put on a production.
“Two hundred auditioned and 34 got places. We trained every night and then we went to Australia, to the Captain Cook bicentenary in 1970.
“I was one of the lead dancers. The audience thought it was unique and we got a lot of compliments.”
Pastor George says they later travelled to other festivals in Fiji and Rotorua, but in 1977 the dance company disbanded.
“After that I formed my own group called Te Ivi Maori Cultural Group, because I felt the arts must continue. It is a way of showcasing the Rarotongan culture to the world. I also trained my kids to continue the cultural line.”
His son Henry, now living in Las Vegas, has continued to teach dance at his Tevakanui cultural and performing arts company. They also teach Samoan, Tongan, New Zealand Maori, Tahitian and Hawaiian dancing. Henry’s wife Yvette is Hawaiian.
“They run a lot of dance competitions under the title Ori Tahiti and he teaches children from six years old up to 60-plus.”
Pastor George went to Las Vegas recently to assist with a competition judging panel for his son’s group and help with the Cook Islands drumming.
He says today’s dance groups “tend to pick up the rhythm from other styles and groups, and the dance becomes not true to the original style. It’s a problem”. The solution he says is to bring that knowledge back to the young.